Home >Opinion >Views >B-schools should flourish under India’s revised education policy

Much water has flown under the long-awaited National Education Policy (NEP) bridge in a short while since July this year, when the policy was announced by the Union government. Debate on its salient features has been aplenty. But one area that hasn’t received enough attention is that of the pathway for the policy’s execution.

The policy’s key plans with respect to higher education involve the setting up of a National Research Foundation, National Education Technology Forum, and Special Education Zones, and inviting top foreign universities to set up campuses in India. While all these merit deep-dive analysis, what draws immediate attention is the last one, on the internationalization of higher education. Implementing this will not be easy. I share some insights on the promise and challenges of this step, and how it can be implemented. This article will confine itself to management education within the broader framework of higher education.

The government intends to invite the top 100 foreign universities to set up campuses in India. This will promote competition and consolidation in higher education, as we saw with Indian industry after the economic liberalization of 1991. It is estimated that India can save around $18 billion that goes out of the country, even as India receives foreign exchange by attracting students from other nations to these foreign universities.

Consider the shifting landscape. In a post-covid world, paradoxically, the traditional understanding of internationalization has taken a 180-degree turn. While it used to be a flat world with free borders, students now find barriers coming up in many nations, from the US to the UK. The other important way that the pandemic has shrunk the world is through greater digitalization. Digital learning with sophisticated technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality will crunch distances, tuition costs and the need for physical campuses. Faculty and students will have to relearn ways of engaging with each other, conducting research and working with industry and government to develop solutions for problems.

If and when the 100 foreign universities identified in the NEP set up campuses, there will be consolidation in higher education. Many tier-2 and tier-3 colleges may find the going tough. The cost of education could go up, but the country needs inclusive higher education. Balancing the two will be critical but challenging. Innovative solutions will be needed so that bright students from less-privileged sections of society are also able to benefit from world-class education, and they are retained in the country.

We need a fresh perspective. There are a few pre-conditions that are necessary for the success of this form of globalization. International-quality faculty is the first step. While setting up foreign universities will bring some of the best faculty to India, that by itself may not be enough. Pay scales and incentives will have to match global standards. In this regard, the model of the Indian School of Business (ISB) may be worth emulating. When it started in 2001, it attracted the best of non-resident Indian faculty. What made this possible was its partnerships with Wharton, Kellogg and the London Business School. In the marketing domain, for example, at least 10 professors from the global top 25 teach at ISB. We need to create an environment to involve them in nurturing India’s educators of tomorrow.

ISB has also had some high-profile global chief executive officers (CEOs) on its board. It is worth noting that global firms have had the benefit of Indian C-suite leadership in Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, Arvind Krishna, Indra Nooyi and others. Also, there would be around 50 global Indian CEOs in the Fortune 500 list. All of them have achieved their potential overseas, but the moot question is whether that would have happened in an Indian environment as well. China has been able to attract high-quality Chinese talent back through innovative schemes such as term professorships in leading universities and opportunities to serve on public- and private-sector boards. India needs to do much more to attract Indian-origin business and academic leaders back.

The other changes that would help in the globalization of management education are better governance of academic institutions, greater autonomy and world-class infrastructure. However, there could also be calls from existing management institutions for a level-playing field. Therefore, we have to tread carefully.

We also need new models for execution. The internationalization of higher education has been done in limited ways in India so far. We need to set up world-classes institutions like Ashoka University, O.P. Jindal University and ISB. Second, Indian institutes of higher education like SP Jain Global now have physical presence overseas. Third, we need alliances between Indian and overseas institutions for curriculum development, student exchange programmes and dual certification.

We need to take bold, not baby steps. In the future, this can take new directions. For example, dual degrees could be awarded by both Indian and foreign universities. We could even have partnerships with more universities than just two.

We must also be creative. Indian institutions can also partner with private-sector initiatives. There could be programmes between, say, our technology and management institutes and the Infosys Leadership Institute or IBM Institute for Business. These are common in Germany, where companies such as SAP and Diamler “share" professors and labs with universities. ISB is taking such steps, working with Microsoft India in areas ranging from entrepreneurship to business innovation.

Joint appointments, by which a faculty member teaches the same course in two institutions, can also be pursued. We could have cooperation between the Indian Institutes of Technology and management schools, for example. Industry-academia partnerships would also bring the best of industry practices to teaching. Further, apart from traditional MBA courses, executive education would also benefit greatly from the opening up of management education. The NEP is a significant step forward. But its implementation holds the key to the transformation to Indian education.

Rajendra Srivastava is the dean of the Indian School of Business.

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